Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Havens, Medlock Ames and Ruston Family Vineyards
Preiser’s Reserve, or, this week: OK, YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST: We have been writing wine columns for many years now, and have been the first to write about a number of different wines and/or wineries. But we don’t think we have ever been the first people (much less reporters) outside of the wine making team to taste a wine and critique it in print. Well, today that changes, as just yesterday we were the in fact the first to taste the soon to be released 2002 H. Posert II & III Cabernet Sauvignon ($49). Never heard of H. Posert II & III? You will. H stands for “Harvey” and, as you might have guessed, the owners are father and son. Dad was Mondavi’s P.R. genius for many years, while Three is highly experienced in all aspects of the wine industry and is currently the national sales manager for a well known Napa winery.
Want to know about the wine? We don’t blame you. It is harmoniously luscious and rich from the first whiff of dark fruit with a hint of mint, thru layers of dense briary, black cherry/berries, and on to lingering earth and friendly tannins at the finish. You will have to ask Harvey about lay down time, but unless you are loaded with patience, don’t bother. This first effort screams “drink me now and come back for more.” Only 186 cases will be released in September of this year, so we advise speed. Information can be obtained by calling 707-253-1642, or (some time in September) going to HPosert.com.
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We didn’t know much about this little gem until we wrote about American Albarino producers some months back, and were unable to taste the Havens product because they were sold out. So of course we had to visit this small facility on Hoffman Lane just north of the town of Napa, and were most impressed, not only by the Spanish varietal, but by those more common to California.
Led through the tasting by marketing director Heidi Fuller, we tasted:
-2004 Albarino ($24) - Showed peach blossoms and kumquats on the nose, which morphed well into a full, fruity mouth with an intriguing sour lemon ball finish.
-2001 Merlot Napa Valley ($24) - An addition of 5% Cabernet Franc enhances the red cherries and plum on the nose, the full dark fruit mid palate, and the long, satiny finish on the upper palate. Quite quaffable.
-2000 Merlot Reserve ($32) - Though Heidi suggests that this wine will show best after eight or so years, we found it easily approachable now, with its bright plumy fruit, lovely dense mid palate, and smooth tannins through the finish.
-2001 Bourriquot [boor’-ee-koh] ($36) - It’s fun to know that this highly structured wine with a persistent finish and gentle tannins translates to “stubborn mule.” We like the 2/3 Cab Franc-1/3 Merlot blend. Just the right amount of weight and backbone to cut through the marble in a big steak.
-2000 Syrah Hudson ($45) - A big wine, so big in fact that we recommend you open it the day before drinking so it can take in all the air it needs to show well. And when it does, you will see an inky dark wine with huge black fruits dancing all over the palate. So let’s just say it. Yummy.
: It’s always nice to see young owners and winemakers getting into a business so often controlled by mega corporate interests in this day and age. Chris Medlock (now a financial advisor in San Francisco) and Ames Morison (the winemaker and on site principal) met while at Tulane University (to us a great pedigree since it’s also Monty’s alma mater) and continued their association to Sonoma County, where they purchased some of the county’s most beautiful wine growing acreage off famed Chalk Hill Rd. We dined and toured with Ames, and not only is he amazingly talented, he’s a nice guy. We think he will be a major player, and we’re rooting for him
Our tasting from the bottle:
-2001 Merlot Alexander Valley Bell Mountain Vineyard ($35) - We deduced lots of luscious red plums and cassis to start, with definite nutmeg and cinnamon spice at the finish. One of us thought there was a pleasant “cigar box” overtone.
-2002 Merlot Alexander Valley Bell Mountain Vineyard ($35) - This particularly hot vintage yielded huge ripe fruit which was hard to balance in unskilled hands. Fortunately, Ames knew what to do and this Merlot is in fact harmonious and shows black cherries, black plums, and mix of spices. It probably should be enjoyed soon.
-2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Bell Mountain Vineyard ($42) - Dense and ripe from start to finish. Shades of chocolate and a long finish.
From the barrel we tasted five wines, the 2003 Merlot, the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2003 Red Blend, the 2004 Merlot, and the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. Each successive year seemed to us to surpass the preceding one. This should not be surprising as the both the vines and the winemaker mature.
Ruston Family Vineyards
You just never know where you might come across fabulous wine. Earlier this summer we were invited to the St. Helena Viticultural Society’s annual fundraiser, and happened upon a couple of wines we had not seen before. They were good enough that we took the card of the producer and called him soon after for an appointment and a full tasting.
John Ruston does not have a formal tasting room, though his case production is not inconsequential by any means. He sells from his home, which is in the vineyards just west of St. Helena. Our tasting itself was on the patio and in the kitchen of his mother’s home, which is also on the property. We’ve been in these increasingly rare environments before, and always enjoy tasting in the same manner as was probably offered by most wineries twenty or thirty years ago - just a few people sitting and chatting, while savoring the view and the wine. And while we were at first a bit surprised to discover how much we enjoyed these not-yet-well-known wines, when we learned that our good friend Joshua Krupp is the winemaker, we were not surprised. Ruston is one of our best finds of the 2005 summer.
-2003 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley ($20) - A blend of 80% S.B. and 20% Semillon, this engaging creation offers pear and citrus up front, and a deliciously crisp finish without the sharp acidity that hampers too many efforts to make this varietal well.
-2001 Merlot Napa Valley ($32) - Showing off an impressive nose of dark fruit, this wine yields to an equally dark, dense, briary mid palate, and a creamy chocolate espresso finish.
-2002 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley ($32) - The structured density reflects the Krupp style. This wine is still tight, but pleasant. Though we like this Cab Franc, its big brother from Stagecoach Vineyard (see below) is so good we suggest you consider spending the difference.
-2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford ($45) - Black berries and black cherries are evident in the nose. The smooth texture is not dominated by excellent tannins. The finish is long and espresso-like. This is a real favorite.
-2002 Cabernet Franc Stagecoach Vineyard ($42) - Superb at every turn, this dense wine is driven by cassis and blueberries, while retaining the typical Cab Franc aromatics. The great surprise is the terroir in the finish. Sara simply calls this her “happy wine,” as she can’t stop smiling when she drinks it.
We Call ‘em As We Taste ‘em: By total coincidence we tasted two wines on Friday July 8, and read The June 30th Wine Spectator reviews of the same wines the next day. To say the least, we were astonished. The Spectator, without comment, awarded the 2002 Three Thieves “Bandit” Cab-in-a-Box ($8/litre) 82 points. The magazine scored the 2001 Cyrus, made by Alexander Valley Vineyards ($50), at 81 points. Our tasting notes for the “Bandit” echoed the comments of some winemakers with whom we tasted. We all found stewed tomatoes and cranberries, and not much of a finish. Not bad, mind you, for $8, but not a stellar concoction, nor is it meant to be. For the Cyrus, we concluded it was still a bit tight, but were also confident that it showed loads of fruit, complexity, hints of chocolate mint, and a density on the mid palate. In fact, we bought some. It seems to us that under any circumstances the bottle tasted by the Spectator had to be off in some way. If you are as captivated by these comparative ratings as were we, and happen to check it yourself, we’d love to know what you think.
Great News From New York: New York, under a new law that will take effect next month, has authorized the direct shipment of wines into and out of the state. The law also allows New York citizens to order wine by mail from wineries nationwide. As all interested in wine now know, the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down laws in two states as discriminatory because they allowed in state wineries, but not out of state businesses, to ship directly to consumers. Historically, the XXI Amendment, which repealed Prohibition, was interpreted to require wineries to export their best brands at a deep discount through licensed wholesalers and distributors. The wine was then sold to restaurants, bars and other retailers. Serving as middlemen, wholesalers became incredibly powerful and wealthy, and argued that looser controls on wine could lighten state tax coffers and potentially pump up underage drinking. Vintners countered that the XXI Amendment allowing each state to regulate the importation and sale of alcohol conflicted with Constitutional amendments governing interstate commerce. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court got this one right. Now it is up to individual states to determine whether to allow interstate wine shipments or to ban all wine shipments within the state.
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.